James William Gleeson, Archbishop of Adelaide

Author: Robert Rice

Rice, Robert, 2019 James William Gleeson, Archbishop of Adelaide, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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James William Gleeson was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Adelaide in 1971-1985. Prior to this he was the auxiliary bishop for Matthew Beovich in 1957-64 and the coadjutor archbishop with the right to succeed Beovich in 1964-71. This thesis explores and critically examines his life from his early years until and including his time as the emeritus archbishop of Adelaide in 1985-2000.

Although the Catholic Church was challenged by the Enlightenment and battered and changed by the French Revolution, Gleeson lived for forty-two years in a Church that had been formed principally by the Council of Trent (1545-63). Its influence was evidenced by the longevity of the Missal of Pope Pius V (1566-72) promulgated in 1570, which remained in use in the Latin Church until the Second Vatican Council. Gleeson was prepared for priestly ordination in a seminary whose method of training had its origins in the Council of Trent. During the nineteenth century, Roman authorities tightened seminary programmes, resulting in their becoming vehicles for ultramontanism and promoters of a ‘church turning inward’.

Gleeson was a bishop before, during and following the Second Vatican Council which was a hinge moment in the history of the Church. ‘Tradition-caked attitudes’ were set aside and the Council presented a new paradigm of the Church, freed from rigid definitions and scholastic (juridical) subtleties.

Understanding Gleeson’s early years prior to the Second Vatican Council makes possible an understanding of the magnitude of the reform and updating mandated by the Council. The Council’s sixteen documents laid down new requirements for the thinking and conduct of bishops, priests and lay people. Gleeson was committed to embedding the new style of Catholicism in the archdiocese of Adelaide.

After tracing Gleeson’s early life and priestly ministry prior to his episcopal ordination, the thesis charts his contribution to the Second Vatican Council and his promotion of what he termed a ‘Council Conscience’. He was especially concerned for the reform of the liturgy and for the laity to be able to exercise the ministries proper to them. The Council described episcopal governance of the Church as ‘collegial’, that is, exercised in union with all other bishops and the pope. In the performance of their pastoral office, bishops were urged to consult the laity and give them a role in decision making. Gleeson cooperated with the bishops of Asia and Oceania and in his own diocese enabled priests, religious and laity to be heard and to share in the making of decisions. His contribution to ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, and pastoral renewal, is considered. Responding to the Council’s increased emphasis on the Church’s social teaching, he worked for social justice in Australia and the world, deeming it an essential component of preaching the Christian gospel.

There have been few studies of the ways that Australian bishops responded to and implemented the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. This thesis therefore contributes to filling this gap. It also examines the internal workings of the Catholic Church in a major Australian diocese during a period of significant religious, social, and political change. In so doing it is in harmony with the vision of the theologian Massimo Faggioli who described ‘Church History as…an intellectual discipline providing a “public service” to the world of knowledge.

Keywords: Catholic Church, bishops, Second Vatican Council, James Gleeson, Archdiocese of Adelaide,

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Josephine Laffin